Fort MacKay residents short on cash after oilsands profits dip

Some residents from the wealthy Fort McKay First Nation are in financial trouble after the First Nation failed to provide an expected dividend from oilsands profits last month.

Band CEO blames low profits for missing payment

Some residents from the wealthy Fort McKay First Nation are in financial trouble after the band failed to provide an expected dividend from oilsands profits last month.

Band members have long been receiving the payment, known as a PCD, which the band is able to pay out due to profits gained from oilsands-related operations. Recently, members collected more than $10,000 per year from the funds. 

But band CEO George Arcand says oilsands profits took an unexpected dip last year – leaving the band with a $13 million shortfall.

Annette Campre says she's having a hard time making ends meet without the PCD payment. (Supplied)
Right now, he says the band simply can’t afford to spend money on PCDs.

Annette Campre is a single mom who takes her diabetic son to Fort McMurray  for treatment.

She said she relies on the PCD to top up her welfare payments and help cover costs.

“I'm broke, I don't even know where I'm going to get gas now,” she said.

“You know we should have got our PCDs. We've been getting them every year since 2001 since we formed these group of companies.”

Listen to reporter James Hees describe the problem to CBC Radio Active host Portia Clark

Officials blame tight resources

In recent years, Fort McKay's group of companies was grossing more than $100 million annually.

Mel Grandjambe ran the companies until last November. He blames the current band leadership for the diminishing PCDs.

While the Fort McKay First Nation declined a recorded interview, CEO George Arcand told CBC News that band members have been warned not to rely on PCDs.  

Spokesperson Dayle Hyde added that the payments are only distributed when excess cash is available, and that it was not “financially prudent” to pay them out in June.

“In the past year, the profits from our businesses were less than expected due to various temporary competitive pressures, which have since been resolved. Accordingly, there was less excess cash,” she wrote.

Hyde said the shortfall of income also came at a time when the First Nation was investing a large amount of financial resources into improving social programs, housing and infrastructure.

CEO Arcand said the bills will be paid off shortly, which should mean band members may start receiving some sort of PCD payment later this year.

In the meantime, he suggested people encountering financial difficulty apply to the band for help –- something Campre says she’s tried to do, but with no success.

With files from CBC's James Hees